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Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  2,807 ratings  ·  561 reviews
"A gripping detective story and haunting memoir. It will leave you breathless." --Walter Isaacson, author of Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, and other bestselling biographies.

The Great Michigan Read for 2013-14. A Washington Post Best Book, 2009. A 2010 Michigan Notable Book.

Beth Luxenberg was an only child, or so her son Steve believed. But secrets have a way of working fr
Hardcover, 401 pages
Published May 1st 2009 by Hyperion Books (first published 2009)
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3.74  · 
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The Hook - I rarely use this format for non-fiction but feel an explanation of my path to Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret is in order. In my former position in our public library I was responsible for ordering adult materials. Many, many items caught my eye. I’m certain these two quotes from a Kirkus review were intriguing enough to warrant the purchase. ”In 1995, the author learned that his aging mother had a sister she had never mentioned.”

”Beautifully complex, raw and revealing
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Steve Luxenberg transfixed American readers in 2009 in this tell-all and grittily-written biography of his family’s dark secrets.

It is atmospherically redolent of those noir thrillers Alfred Hitchcock pumped out in the forties and fifties as an American impetus towards healthier psychological hygiene and awareness.

And classics like Vertigo and Rear Window give but a mere glimpse of the humungous submerged iceberg that widespread psychiatric awareness was uncovering
Apr 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
I stumbled upon an advance copy of Annie's Ghosts and picked it up thinking my mom might like to read it. Intrigued by some of the blurbs, somehow I started it and found myself carrying it around in search of free moments to read for the next several days--Mom would have to wait her turn. Obviously, family dynamics and hidden, secret things resonate with everyone. Although time does sweep back and forth, even within chapters, the author has done a great job crafting a narrative that even stands ...more
Apr 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Selected as the Great Michigan Read for 2013 and 2014. I read this book over the course of one weekend! I love history especially Michigan history. This book touches on all sorts of subjects from family secrets, Michigan history, mental illness, immigration and discrimination. The book reads like fiction another bonus! A title that is open to all sorts of discussions! Kudos to Detroit native Steve Luxenberg!
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
I wavered between 2 and 3 stars. 2.5 stars but not rounded up. Because of the way it's told, its length and its voice. It would have been so more compelling if the author's deceased mother would have had some emotional or factual input BEFORE the search. In other words, if she had told the story of what she knew or what she had "forgotten". That she did tell everyone and for long decades that she was an only child, and repeatedly! Well, that was how perceptions in those times could be considered ...more
Oct 31, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm wavering between two and three stars for this book. The author's family past is definitely fascinating--not just for what happens to his aunt, but because they live through enormous moments in world and American history (the turn-of-the-century wave of immigration to America, the early twentieth century prosperity of Detroit, the Jewish diaspora, the Depression, the Holocaust...). While a reader shares in Luxenberg's journey of discovery, the reader also shares in his frustrations, which in ...more
i just wrote a ridiculously long review and x'd out of it by accident without saving. it is gone and i am lazy. you will never find out what i really think.
Jun 23, 2009 rated it liked it
Part mystery, part investigative journalism, and part family history, Annie’s Ghosts is about the discovery of family secret. Details of the secret unfolds like a mystery with writing that’s easy to read thanks to Steve Luxenberg’s investigative journalism background.

Steve discovers that his mother, who always made the point of telling everyone she was an only child, had a sister that almost no one knew about. Unfortunately, this secret is only unearthed on his mother’s deathbed. With only a few
Feb 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this book this month as part of my 12/12/12 TBR challenge: 12 books in 12 months that have languished for a year or more in my “TBR” (To Be Read) pile. The bullet on this one is that I’m glad the challenge made me finally read it, for a variety of reasons. It’s thought-provoking and educational (in a good way)...definitely worth a read if you’re interested in mid-20th century history, the history of medicine, or investigative journalistic techniques.

I was first drawn to “Annie’s Ghosts” w
Apr 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Weavre by: Amazon Vine
Annies' Ghosts is a beautifully told story, and could have been a great book if it had been about 100 pages shorter. Too often, the gripping, personal narrative was inexplicably interrupted by a dry-as-a-textbook history of Detroit. A better editor might have insisted on cutting that material and focusing on the heart of one family's secret.

This story gripped me by the second page, and for a time I thought I'd not be able to put it down ... until I found myself slogging through Detroit's old cig
Amy Huntley
Jan 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I was fascinated by this book--and I usually don't enjoy reading non-fiction--let alone feel compelled to turn the pages of it. I wanted to know more about the family circumstances that created a situation where a woman would completely turn her back on her sister. Where she would hide her existence so completely that her own children would be astonished to learn she'd ever existed. But even more compelling was the way Luxenberg brought together an entire society and history (of Michigan and of ...more
Jun 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
This is a story of a family with a hidden secret that a mother was hiding from her family about a sister that spent the most of her life in an institution. The sister, Annie, lived at home until she was 21 and then spent the rest of her life institutionalized. The mother's children found out about their hidden aunt not long before their mother died but did not ask her about her sister. After his mother's death then Steve the author tried to piece together the story and why his mother hid this fr ...more
Jul 18, 2018 rated it liked it
I’m from Detroit and I am a huge fan of genealogy so this book was intriguing to me. Reading this book it brought out thoughts of my childhood and the theme of this book, family secrets. My lower rating only refers to some of the detail I felt could have been left out but ultimately you could see this was a mission of love from a son to his mother.
Sarah Weathersby
I was immediately intrigued when I read the description of this book. It's part memoir, part mystery, and the other part I'll get to later.

The author, Steve Luxenberg, is an investigative journalist for the Washington Post. Shortly before his mother dies, he learns that his mother, Beth Luxenberg, had a sister. He doesn't quite process this new information until he starts to replay in his head the narrative of his mother's life as an only child. Mom always brought it up that she was an only chil
Jun 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
I first heard about 'Annie's Ghost' from an NPR interview with the author, Steve Luxenberg several months ago. I was captivated by the story he told and his articulateness. I came across the book again while reading a review on an ancestry research board. Everyone seemed to find it a worthwhile read so as an avid fan of genealogy, I reserved it at the library and picked it up this week. The book does not disappoint. The author is an investigative journalist who was left with a family mystery whe ...more
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a detective story, and it’s a mystery, and it’s true. Steve Luxenberg, a journalist, investigates the life of the aunt he never knew or knew of and the secret his mother kept to her dying day.

Luxenberg hears it first from his sister. Now adults, both their parents dead, it seems their mother, Beth, had a sister, Annie, who they had never heard of. And so begin the mysteries: Did Beth really have a sister? Why had she kept this secret? What was Annie’s story?

So he takes time off work at
Kathryn Bergeron
Summary: Annie Cohen is a mystery. An unknown. His mother's sister who had never been mentioned. Join Luxenberg's journey to discover Annie's story.

Why I Read This: I had always wanted to read this, but never had taken the time. Then it became the Great Michigan Read.

Review: I loved this book. It's excellent narrative non-fiction. It doesn't just cover memories of Detroit and its Jewish community, Luxenberg looks at Ukrainian history and the holocaust. Most importantly he tracks down the members
Cynthia Sillitoe
Oct 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fascinating, but a bit overwhelming in its detail.
One of those book length magazine articles, though it kept me reading.
His mother always described herself as an only child, but in her last years her kids discovered she’d had a sister who spent most of her life in a county hospital for the insane. Since this son is an investigative reporter he researched the family secret.
He got his aunt’s medical records and learned she was diagnosed as both retarded and schizophrenic. Professionals he consulted agreed she was certainly low IQ and clearly was
Apr 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Steve Luxenberg grew up believing his mother, Beth, was an only child. About five years before his mother's death, he learned that she had a sister who was institutionalized when they were both young children. He never spoke to her about it, but when she died in 2000, the family learned that Beth's sister, Annie, died in 1972 at the age of 53. Luxenberg wondered how it was that he and his siblings knew nothing of their aunt and why there was no evidence at all of Annie's existence -- other than ...more
Mar 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Annie's Ghost is a book about secrets. The secret that inspires the novel is Annie, a mentally ill/ disabled Aunt that was hidden from family and friends for most of her life.

As Luxenberg investigates Annie's life and the extent to which her life was hidden, he uncovers multiple secrets from an era when people kept their mouths shut and did not share the most intimate details of their lives - a polar opposite of the Facebook/Twitter revolution.

During this journalistic investigation we learn of
Jul 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
In Annie’s Ghosts, Steve Luxenberg (a Washington Post journalist) tells of discovering the secret his mother kept from him and his siblings—they had an aunt who had been institutionalized at age 21. As Luxenberg searches for answers about his aunt and why his mother elected to change her entire family history, he discovers just how difficult it is to obtain records from a time when mental illness was a secret shame for families. Even after he gets legal documents giving him the authority to act ...more
Jun 05, 2013 rated it liked it
The cover of this book accurately says it is "equal parts memoir, social history, and riveting detective story" and I would add genealogical study as well. After his mother's death, the author learns that Mom had a sister. This is the story of his search, not only for the story of the sister's life, but the story behind why his mother had kept her sister's existence a secret. Along the way he includes well researched information about many topics, including the history of Detroit, the Holocaust ...more
Aug 26, 2017 rated it liked it
When Steve Luxenberg took a year off from his job as a newspaper editor to investigate and write this book, it appears he left his editor's eye and skills back in the newsroom. For the first 80 or so pages of Annie's Ghost, I literally became dizzy at times reading it. Not only did the author apparently include every question in his head about "if mom had a sister", he also included every thought in his head about the matter. This is not good in a book. A book like that quickly starts sounding m ...more
Cupcakes & Machetes
Apr 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Non-fiction is not my favorite genre but this book went to the top of my favorite non-fiction list. Admittedly, it is a small list but the fact that it goes to the top should not be ignored.

I think one of the reasons that this book worked so well was the detective work that was required to unearth a family secret. In doing so, there was a combination of drama, research, historical facts and first hand personal accounts.

I am a bit of a history nerd and learning more about the history of asylums w
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My friend Shannon recommended this book to me after learning that I've begun a research project into my family history. It was a great recommendation. As a writer, it showed me possible ways to explore what I'm doing, but as a reader, it was a stunning, heartbreaking story.

I want to write a longer review, but I don't know that I can right now. As I said, this book spoke to me as a researcher. But more than that, it spoke to me as the daughter of a woman that was institutionalized for bipolar dis
Mar 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
"Annie's Ghosts" by Steve Luxenberg is a fairly lengthy but enjoyable historical memoir. A family secret is discovered which shakes the entire Luxenberg sibling world. Through Steve's detailed family research additional family secrets are discovered. This memoir takes us through many decades and several generations of family and friends that have had contact with Steve's mother throughout her life. We not only explore Steve's family, but also explore war and Jew extermination and how this affect ...more
May 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg was my Book Club selection for June. It was the Great Michigan Read selection in 2013-14. After his mother's funeral Luxenberg discovered a secret aunt and set on a quest to discover Annie and why she was kept secret.

The immigrant experience, the Holocaust, the Depression, and Detroit's Eloise Asylum are revealed in his search. Luxenberg discovers more than one family secret.

My book club enjoyed the book and identified with the co
Emi Bevacqua
Oct 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
I watched my mom devour this in a weekend so I had high hopes. Steve Luxenberg is a Detroit journalist, who has meticulously documented every step of his personal search for his mother's family secret, namely her handicapped sister Annie. I grew up in Michigan and have Jewish German ancestry, but even that shared background couldn't keep me interested in every single tedious detail presented here. For me either the book was too long, or the reveal didn't live up to all the build up. But if I wer ...more
Sep 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoire
A journalist friend back in Michigan was forming a book discussion group at her workplace and she had selected Annie's Ghosts as the first book for the group. It was a fascinating look at how families keep secrets (something which might have been more prevalent and done more effectively pre-internet days) as well as how inhumanely the mentally ill were once treated.

The book resonated with me on a couple of levels as I have family members with mental health issues and I know so very little about
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Post #5 (new): A starred Kirkus review 1 27 Mar 27, 2009 02:49PM  
Blog post #4 : The challenge of memory, part 2 1 16 Mar 11, 2009 07:24AM  
Blog post #3: The art of memoir 1 10 Mar 04, 2009 06:51AM  
Post #2 to my GoodReads blog 1 18 Feb 27, 2009 07:19AM  
From the author: My GoodReads blog 1 26 Feb 24, 2009 06:13AM  

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Steve Luxenberg, a Washington Post associate editor, is an award-winning author and journalist. During 30+ years with The Post, he has overseen reporting that has earned numerous honors, including two Pulitzer Prizes. Twitter: @sluxenberg.

Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation, his second book, was published in Feb. 2019 (W.W. Norton). It was n
“Just as secrets have a way of breaking loose, memories often have a way of breaking down. They elude us, or aren’t quite sharp enough, or fool us into remembering things that didn’t quite happen that way. Yet much as a family inhabits a house, memories inhabit our stories, make them breathe, give them life. So we learn to live with the reality that what we remember is an imperfect version of what we know to be true.” 23 likes
“Secrets, I've discovered, have a way of working free of their keepers.” 5 likes
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